Introduction: Building a Laser Cut Model on a Rainy Day
If you love building models and have not tried the laser cut kits...then you have a HUGE treat in store.
I looked on Instructables and have not yet seen any reference to these great kits and so I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences with them.
I was in no rush to put it up as an 'ible and then I noticed the Rainy Day contest and it hit me that these kits are a FANTASTIC way to spend a rainy day (..or any day really :)
Here are a few of my observations and notes that I hope will help you get the most out of building them.
Step 1: The Kits
There are many kits available from several sources but they seem to be made by the same 'unknown' far eastern manufacturer. The big name in the US, UK and Australia is Metal Earth from a company called Fascinations.
If you want a real treat you should visit their website at https://www.fascinations.com/metalearth
That site has all their offerings in several categories from a plant in a pot, to Star Trek and Star Wars models.
It also has beautiful 360 degree animations of every model along with full details of the construction of each one.
It is probably one of the best examples of a model kit site I have ever seen. I have spent HOURS just clicking around it.
The kits sell on Amazon for around $18 or £12 and they carry a huge range, Just search for; 3d Laser Cut models.
You may note from the images I have included of the kits I have built that they are not from that company.
I ordered my models at a low £1.99 from good old eBay. The listings mentioned Metal Earth and all the kits looked the same and so I ordered 4 from a few different listings. Whilst they were 'cheaper' and as far as I can tell are identical to the ME ones, the big downside was that they took over a month to arrive from China.
Step 2: The Tools
Most of the ads and descriptions say that no tools or glue is required to make the kits. This is totally incorrect!
I actually tried to make the first one without tools but soon gave up. By all means try it yourself but the very least you will need will be long and strong finger nails.. and extra patience.
Metal Earth sell a set of tools which go for around $25 or £18, It consists of a pair of flat nosed pliers, some long nosed pliers and a pair of side nippers.
Of course I have lots of tools including all that are in the set. I also raided my wife's super set of jewellery tools to see if they are better.
I have included some notes on tools at appropriate stages during this 'ible.
Step 3: Minimum Tools
I had lots of tweezers, but bought a neat pair from the Pound Store (Dollar Store) they were just right in terms of length and had good strong tips.
Although I have several of the green self repairing cutting boards, I also bought a cheap cutting board specifically for building these models.
I did this for two reasons; first I wanted to keep all this type of kit building in a separate tray that I could use in the living room whilst half watching TV. Second I wanted a nice white background for the photographs.
Although not shown in the tool images I also set up a daylight bulb, magnifying lamp. This can be seen in the title picture and many times throughout this 'ible. Frankly I don't think I could have done all the fiddly part without the lamp and magnifier. Although I am 'old' I think that using a lamp and magnifier should apply to all ages for the sake of accuracy and eyesight health.
The image in this section shows the tools that I ended up using. Apart from those mentioned, I also needed to adapt some long tweezers to reach in and align tabs. I used some neat stepped pliers some angled pliers a knife and a long prong tool.
Step 4: Useful Aids
In addition to basic tools you will find it very useful to have a few 'formers'. Many parts need to be bent or curved around a suitable former. I collected quite a few that turned out to be just the right size and shape to help get the bending right. If you do make these models then it will be a good idea to collect a few formers from available items.
Step 5: Kit Notes
The kits are small and consist of one or two sheets of steel cut out by laser. There is a printed paper sheet of 'instructions to follow along in sequence.
They owe more to IKEA than to any detailed comprehensive guides...but serve the purpose reasonably well.
It is when you start to build that you begin to understand why these kits are often referred to as 'PUZZLES'.
Step 6: Build Notes
One of the kits I had was of a biplane and that had the numbers etched against each part. However most expect you to find parts by referring to a numbered illustration.
My BIG suggestion is that you only remove parts as you need them. Removing all the parts first is a recipe for disaster.
Step 7: Build Examples
This sequence shows the typical construction. The parts are removed in the order indicated by the plans and then bent to the required shape. This takes care and should not be rushed. This aspect is a large part of the fun.
Step 8: Step by Step Build
Carefully select, remove and bend each component.
You are not in a race. A lot of the fun is in taking a lot of time to ensure that each part is neat and square.
If this is in fact a rainy day project, then the warm satisfaction of creating a masterpiece of metal engineering will help to beat those rainy day blues.
Step 9: The Instructions
Follow the instructions and diagrams. Do not leap ahead.
There are two ways of connecting the parts described in the instructions.
One is to bend the tabs over and the other is to twist the tab. Usually the bending is for tabs that will show and twisting is for internal locking together.
Step 10: Fiddly Fun
There is no doubt that it is fiddly. The parts are very small.
I suggest always working on a tray with a clear white surface so that you can see the parts and find them when you drop them...( and you WILL drop them).
Step 11: A Third Method..
I said that there are two methods of fastening and indeed the instructions only list two....but...
I found that a small drop of super glue worked wonders at stages where the part would not stop wobbling.
Be VERY frugal and careful with this method, as you know that stuff spreads and makes ..er...sticky fingers.
Step 12: Former Example.
Here I am showing how to use a cardboard tube to make R2D2's body.
Step 13: Check Parts and Assemble in Order.
Here we see the engine outlets of the Imperial destroyer being patiently assembled.
I formed the exhausts around a pencil tip.
Assembling this component was the hardest part of building the Imperial Destroyer model.
Step 14: My Favourite Way to Remove Parts.
Although nippers are sold for cutting out parts they can leave a burr.
Using a knife needs lots of passes and is not the best way.
I found that wiggling the parts carefully, to and fro, until they detach, is the best method.
Step 15: Super Glue to the Rescue.
I just could not get the destroyer parts to stay aligned and so super glue came to the rescue...again.
Step 16: All the Ways That Do Not Work
Here are all the methods I tried to cut out parts that do not work well.
It really does seem best to use the gentle bending method. This 'work hardens' the part and it just comes away.
It makes you feel like Uri Geller (Google his name if that does not make sense :)
Step 17: Special Tools.
Ok so I did use a few of my wife's jewellery making tools.
You really could manage without them, but hey let's face it we all like having specialised tools.
Step 18: Going Deep
Sometimes you need to probe in deep to attach parts.
The last picture shows me adding a part that I missed out...I could not bend the tabs from the outside and so Super Glue was used.
Step 19: Bend the Right Way
Some parts need to bend the opposite way to what you may think. Always check.
Some parts are extremely complicated.
I suggest that you try a non permanent assembly for the complex parts.
I had to re-bend a few parts that turned out to be left or right orientated.
Step 20: Looking Good.
Close to the end of a build and happy.
...I love it when a kit comes to-gether.
Step 21: Check and Recheck.
Look from all angles.
Make sure that the laser etching is on the correct side.
Make sure all the tabs are angled to enable them to slot into the right slots.
Some parts need to be fixed before mating with other parts, it cannot be done later.
Step 22: Don't Rush.
T A K E I T S L O W...
Enjoy the moments.
These kits will teach you patience and care like no others.
Step 23: Admire Your Work.
Mmm ...yes...it will be rewarding.
You will spend a lot of time just handling your kit as it develops.
You may even find yourself flying it around the room and making appropriate noises.
(Note: best done when you are alone in your man cave).
Step 24: Keep It Up.
They take between an hour and four hours...normally.
There are over 150 kits to make.
So you may look forward to lots of rainy days.
Step 25: Personal Pride...
The proud moment of completion.
So there we have it, my hopefully helpful guide to a wonderful hobby.
I do hope I have encouraged many of you to seek out and build these lovely models.
My other hope is that one day I will be able to create some myself, using my own laser cutter...but I will have to win an Instructables contest before that can happen.
Happy laser kit building 'iblers of the world.
Rainy days will never be the same again.